By Rear Adm. Rick Snyder
Director, 21st Century Sailor Office
In three months serving as director of the 21st Century Sailor Office, I’ve seen our united, Navy-wide efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault.
We’ve always known that this is a tough problem requiring concentrated focus and resources. There are no simple answers, no quick fixes, no easy solutions. Together we’ve made important strides, and as a team, we’ll continue to change the Navy’s culture to one that is intolerant of crimes like sexual assault and other destructive behaviors that hurt our readiness for warfighting.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far, and what we’re planning for this year:
1) Our prevention efforts continue to mature and improve.
- Based on survey responses, less than 10 percent of Sailors observe high-risk situations. When they do see something wrong, across all ranks and gender, more than 85 percent step up and take action.
- In the barracks, Sailors are standing additional watches and implementing roving patrols to help their shipmates and reduce destructive behaviors.
- Because we know there is a link between abuse of alcohol and destructive behavior, we continue our efforts to deglamorize alcohol and diminish its role.
2) Our ability to respond has improved thanks to new resources available to the Fleet.
- In the last year, we grew our capacity to respond with 82 Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, 67 dedicated Sexual Assault Victim Advocates, 29 Victims Legal Counsel and 18 Deployment Resilience Counselors. They team with more than 5,000 collateral duty Victim Advocates to support our shipmates.
- Victims are sharing positive perceptions of this increased support, but we know we can do better. Survey data from victims and response teams suggests that some victims still experience social retaliation, an unacceptable outcome we must continue to address together.
- Sailor feedback on training was heard loud and clear: ‘Stop the slides,’ ‘Reduce the size of the groups,’ and ‘Stop duplicative training.’ Our new Bystander Intervention to the Fleet training, beginning this fall for all active and reserve Sailors, was created expressly with this feedback in mind. This new training will provide realistic, peer-led, interactive instruction to help Sailors recognize potentially harmful situations and how to safely intervene.
3) Timely and reliable numbers are still a problem.
- Survey data still indicates more assaults than are being reported are actually occurring. This reporting gap must be closed. We must reduce sexual assault in the Navy and increase the reporting of those assaults when they occur – this demands our united resolve.
- As Sailors learned more and trusted our system to respond, investigate, and hold offenders appropriately accountable, we saw sexual assault reporting increase 46 percent from FY12 to FY13. Sexual assault reports increased in FY14 at a lesser rate. The lower rate of increase in reporting is encouraging, but long term progress will ultimately be indicated by a decrease in sexual assaults.
- We are committed to stopping sexual assaults, but if they do occur, our earned trust and proven response systems create conditions for victims to report them. Reporting is the key to supporting the victim and holding the perpetrator appropriately accountable.
4) Sailor involvement and willingness to address the problem is growing.
- The regular release of courts-martial results provides transparency of our accountability process. Final results are posted on the public Navy website monthly. Sexual assault is a topic we will continue to address openly.
- Members of our Coalitions of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions highlight the responsible use of alcohol, healthy lifestyle choices and the importance of bystander intervention. Their leadership is critical to our united efforts in defeating destructive behaviors and truly represents our core values of honor, COURAGE, and commitment.
5) Future efforts. Continued attention. Looking ahead to the next year, we will keep the press on.
- Make it easier to understand and comply with sexual assault prevention and response resources, policies, and requirements. We will publish one easy to use document so Sailors and leadership no longer need to sort through numerous messages and instructions to understand and comply with prevention and response requirements.
- Improve our ability to identify data trends early so we can take appropriate action. We will continue to assess surveys/polls to determine suitability for providing more real-time or continuous information.
- Empower command leadership at all levels. Over the next year, we will enhance the ability of leaders to tailor their approach to prevention and response program education and awareness to better fit individual Sailor and unit needs while still meeting Navy-wide standards and requirements.
- Continued focus on victim support. We will continue to mature and improve the healthcare, legal, and overall support services we provide to victims of sexual assault – all based on Sailor feedback.
Our goal is straightforward: a Navy in which every Sailor understands what sexual assault is, how to play a role in prevention, and how to report it; a Navy in which victims know they will be supported and everyone knows that perpetrators will be held appropriately accountable.
Beginning next month, I’ll travel to Fleet concentration areas to continue this vital conversation – listening, answering your questions, and sharing your feedback with your shipmates.
As with every challenge we’ve faced for more than 239 years, we are successful only when we pull together as one team. We need every voice and every Sailor’s effort to help prevent sexual assault in our Navy.